Crowds gather in State College-area establishments to watch U.S. win opening World Cup match

Matt Bassett and his son Landon, 6, watch the U.S. play Ghana in the World Cup at Damon’s on Monday, June 16, 2014.
Matt Bassett and his son Landon, 6, watch the U.S. play Ghana in the World Cup at Damon’s on Monday, June 16, 2014. CDT photo

When American Clint Dempsey scored the quickest goal in U.S. World Cup history Monday night, the fans who gathered to watch in the clubhouse at Damon’s Grill erupted in celebration.

When Ghana’s Andre Ayew tied the game with fewer than 10 minutes left, the packed house at Kildare’s Irish Pub went nearly silent.

A few minutes later, as Team USA’s John Brooks found the back of the net, that same crowd gave a deafening roar, almost transporting everyone to the stadium in Natal, Brazil.

Soccer has more than just pockets of interest in State College, as evidenced by the fervent passion shown by the hundreds of fans filling both establishments, where parking and seats were hard to find for the U.S. national team’s opening 2-1 win in the World Cup.

Matt Bassett, of Bellefonte, brought his son Landon, 6, to watch at Damon’s, and the boy was enjoying the night.

“We wanted to give him the experience of being out with a bunch of people watching a game,” Matt Bassett said. “It was a little father-son bonding.”

The enthusiasm may have been even louder at Kildare’s, where the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder.

“It’s the next-best thing to being in the stadium,” said Ezra Goldstein, a Penn State senior from Allentown.

The viewing party at Damon’s was organized by Centre Soccer Association. The main room downstairs had nearly every seat filled — with each of the six television screens set to the U.S. game — and a few dozen more watched in another room downstairs. Still more were riveted to the screens upstairs.

“That’s what makes the World Cup fun,” said Lisa Cole, CSA’s technical director, “to watch it together.”

Cole approached Damon’s about a month ago about the plan.

“I said, ‘Absolutely. We would love it,’” Damon’s manager Kerry DuBois said. “It’s turned out to be great. The clubhouse is booming.”

DuBois likened the event to a fall football weekend, and figured it was the largest single-event party since the NCAA basketball tournament.

Radio station B94.5 was on hand playing music at halftime and giving away prizes.

The Damon’s crowd had a family atmosphere, with children from toddlers to teens joining their parents.

Dan Meehan brought his young son Connor to watch the game with about seven of Meehan’s teammates from his adult league team.

“It’s great and we’re enjoying the good atmosphere,” Meehan said. “I knew there would be a lot of turnout, but it’s a surprise. There are a lot of people here and it’s great to see.”

A number of Penn State coaches — including those from other sports — also were in the crowd.

“The whole country is fired up about this,” men’s coach Bob Warming said, noting he is hearing from other Penn State coaches about the tournament. “I just got a text from (football coach James) Franklin — he’s watching the game. Everybody’s into it, and it’s not just because it’s the U.S.A. It’s because it’s soccer.”

The party at Kildare’s was much louder.

Frequently the crowd broke into chants, with some featuring a few expletives, which were picked up from one end of the building to the other.

“The people are passionate, they’re fired up,” said Wayne Geerling, a native of Melbourne, Australia, who has been teaching economics at Penn State the last two years. “They enjoy watching their team, their nation, play in the World Cup. It’s fantastic.”

Geerling admitted he was on his fifth beer by early in the second half. He watched Germany beat Portugal 4-0 at another establishment earlier in the day.

“Great beer, great company, great game,” Geerling said. “Life’s good.”

He figured he is working about five hours a day on campus, then spending the rest of the day watching soccer.

“We’ve been here probably the last five days,” said Goldstein, who was at the same table as Geerling and sporting a “Bayern-Munich” jersey from the club in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Dan Stokes, the manager of Kildare’s, said there have been viewing parties for all the Cup games, and while many were small there were a few decent gatherings, especially on Saturday when Italy battled England.

But that crowd paled in comparison to Monday. The official capacity, including a handful of outdoor tables, is 319. The count as the second half began was 300. Fans stood about four rows deep around the bar in the back with a big projection screen behind it.

“We were anticipating it,” Stokes said. “But to be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting it to be this busy. It’s a really nice crowd and we’re actually already looking forward to Sunday, as far as (bringing in more of) our staff.”

While there were major emotional swings over the final minutes of the match, the biggest had nothing to do with what happened on the field. With about a minute left in stoppage time, and the U.S. clinging to the 2-1 lead, the satellite signal was lost on all the Kildare’s TVs.

It robbed the enthusiasm from the final moments of the game, but there was no doubt nearly everyone enjoyed the experience.

A number of other establishments in town also are holding get-togethers, both for U.S. games and other matches, and CSA has events planned again at Damon’s for the next two U.S. matches — and beyond if the U.S. advances to the elimination round.

“It’s awesome seeing the support for the team,” Bassett said. “Everybody’s into it, cheering on that first goal. It’s a good atmosphere to have here in State College.”